“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth,'” (Revelation 3:15-17, ESV).
In his epic poem The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri placed the lukewarm at the gateway to hell, neither in hell nor in heaven. They are “melancholy souls . . ./Who lived withouten infamy or praise,” (Canto III, 35-36). They, in fact, “never were alive,” (64).
They were, Stephen Smith asserts, “souls who have lost truth, have lost God.” The lukewarm “would not exercise their liberty,” and missed out on life and eternity.
Not following God or Satan, Dante explains, they looked out for themselves alone.
Being outside hell sounds better than being inside, but Dante says such souls “envious are of every other fate,” (III, 48). Their end is worse than all others.
Of course, Dante’s poem is literature, not theology.
For theology, we can look to Francis Chan whose discussion of the lukewarm supports Dante’s placement of the lukewarm to either good or evil outside of heaven.
In Chan’s analysis, the lukewarm act like Christians. They go to church. They give money to good causes. But when what is right conflicts with what is popular, the lukewarm “care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.”
Chan says such lukewarm churchgoers don’t want to be saved from their sin, only from its penalty.
Their “faith” is emotional; they do not live it out with action. Jesus is part of their lives, but not in control of their lives. They structure their lives so they don’t have to live by faith.
In his typical fashion, Chan, as does Dante from seven centuries ago, convicts and calls us to overcome too much comfort, to be real in our faith.
Francis Chan’s new book Until Unity ties our embrace of authentic faith over a lukewarm counterfeit to Christian unity. Steeped in biblical evidence, Chan says “the unsurrendered will always be at odds with the Christ followers, lobbying for their sins to be overlooked and fighting for their own desires in ungodly ways. . . .
“[The lukewarm] find common ground [among themselves] in judging the radicals who dare think Christ calls everyone to deny themselves and pick up crosses. . . . They can even rally together against those who still believe that the commands of Scripture are still valid today.”
We watch this conflict within the Church. It goes on around us daily. It occurs both at high levels and in small congregations.
“[T]here are many people in churches who do not truly follow Jesus, and with them, there can be no unity. It is our responsibility to lovingly confront them and call them higher. But if they remain unchanged, it is never our responsibility to lower the bar in the name of unity,” (emphasis Chan’s).
The lukewarm live among us. Many sleep.
We will not win them by being like them. We must show them Christ. We must love them, but only in truth.
We can be the hot cup of reality in a community drowsy from the lure of the unreal.
And what must overflow from our hot cups are love and truth.